Chapter 9 – Kile
I woke Monday morning with one of the worst hangovers I’d had in years. Jeff and his crew of trained monkeys decided to give me the weekend off, which I was more than grateful for. Even after one day with him I’d felt drained and knocked dangerously off-kilter.
I’d spent the weekend watching grainy cell phone footage of myself at the lecture giving that stupid speech and telling the world I was some sort of sap still moping around about the fact I’d been cheated on. But it wasn’t the rest of the world knowing that made me uncomfortable—it was Taylor knowing that did it. I had no idea what he’d do with that information or what he’d try to extrapolate from it, and I hoped against hope he wouldn’t start to try and pity or protect me because that’s what people always did when they found out.
The worst part was that I didn’t need his or anyone else’s pity but I kind of wanted it from him. When he pushed me for details on Brandon I’d turned into a cocktail of different feelings. Part of me felt annoyed and violated, another part of me felt angry at the thought of Brandon, and yet another part of me hoped Taylor might put his arms around me and tell me it was all going to be OK.
But that urge, along with what I’d shared with the crowd during the lecture, was a momentary lapse in judgment, something I wouldn’t let happen again, and now I was paying the price for it—hence the hangover.
Now it was Monday and in a matter of minutes, Taylor and his crew would be invading my space again. I’d considered picking up my phone to call Lee and tell him I was bailing out more than once but each time I lifted my phone from the coffee table I thought of the publicity and status I’d be giving up and let the phone fall right back down.
Get it together, Kile, I thought as I rubbed the exhaustion from my eyes. I had less than an hour to get ready before Taylor showed up and now more than ever I needed to present a put-together image. He’d already seen a crack in my armor and if I knew him like I thought I did, he wouldn’t relent now; he’d keep prying at the crevice to try to learn more about it the same way a kid tongued at the wound after having a tooth pulled.
I stumbled into my ensuite bathroom and tore off the same underwear I’d had on all weekend before stepping into the shower. The hot water was a small blessing that felt incredible against my skin, snaking over my shoulders and down my back like a strong pair of hands, the way Taylor’s hands might feel on my hips as he held me down and…
“Stop,” I said out loud, my head pounding. It wasn’t just from the hangover, either. Blood pumped in my ears, funneling down to my growing cock. “This isn’t happening. You’re just mixed up because he showed a small bit of sympathy toward you. He doesn’t actually care, he couldn’t possibly. He hates you,” I told myself. “And you hate him, too. Don’t get it twisted.”
I turned the water as cold as it would go to shock my system and force my erection to go away. The water was like icy needles on my skin but it did the job and forced me to shower faster than I normally would’ve. Once I got cleaned up, I put on a touch of makeup in the bathroom mirror and slipped into the first outfit I could find in my closet, a tastefully torn pair of stone-washed jeans and a plain white t-shirt. I wasn’t really in the mood to wear anything bolder.
I’d just sat down with a cup of coffee when Taylor knocked on the door. Sighing and promising myself I wouldn’t say or do anything stupid in front of him again, I went to it and let him in.
“Morning,” he said, wearing a bright smile.
“How are you always so cheery and peppy in the morning?” I asked. The tone of his voice annoyed me—along with pretty much everything else about him.
“After 20 years in this business, I don’t sleep past 4 AM anymore,” he said as he stepped past me and took what had become his usual seat.
“Are you sure that’s not just from getting old?”
“You’re not too far behind me, you know. Before long you’ll be making ten trips a night to the bathroom, too,” he said, pulling his pad and pen from the messenger bag he’d brought with him.
“Where’s the rest of the crew?” I asked, scanning the hall for more bodies and finding none.
“I decided to go it alone today, or at least for a little while. Is that OK?” he asked without turning to face me. No, it’s most definitely not OK, I thought, my pulse quickening. After what happened on Friday at the university, the very last thing I wanted was to be alone with Taylor. I knew what he was up to, knew he wanted to badger me for more details —and I didn’t want to give them to him, not now, not ever.
“I guess it’s gonna have to be,” I said and let the door swing shut before walking back to the sofa and sinking down onto it. Truthfully, part of me was glad not to have to stare down cameras and bright-ass lights for a day. The pounding headache I was fighting would certainly appreciate it.
“Long weekend? You look rough,” Taylor said.
“Yeah, something like that. Celebratory partying with the guys from The Flame,” I lied.
“Understandably. This must be a really big deal for them, too.”
“They’re more excited about it than I am, honestly.”
“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed.”
“That makes two of us,” I said. I didn’t mean to lie to Taylor but I couldn’t tell him I’d spent the entire weekend holed up in my condo. I was nervous about being alone with him but I couldn’t let it show.
“So, what’s on the agenda today?” he asked, thankfully changing the subject.
“Not much, honestly. I don’t have any appearances or anything scheduled. I’m just kind of taking it easy.”
“Everyone needs a break now and then,” he said. “And it looks like you really need one.”
“That’s the price you pay for success, right?”
“Speaking of The Flame, are you ever going to take us into the office?”
“This is only day two, I’m sure there will be time to make that happen,” I said.
“Fair enough. I’d love to see what you’ve got going on in there.”
“You won’t think that once you see it. The place is kind of a dump.”
“Maybe so but it’s part of your story and that makes it interesting. I’m sure viewers would want to see it, too,” he said.
“What’s interesting about it?”
“It’s your baby. For all intents and purposes, it is you,” he said. “Or at the least it’s a very intimate part of you.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Are you OK?” he asked. Truthfully, my head was spinning, all crowded with conflicting thoughts and feelings.
“I’ve been better. I’m fighting a pretty killer hangover.”
“You should probably slow down. Living hard and fast like that will catch up with you. Bad habits have a way of doing that,” he said and I looked up to meet his gaze for the first time since he’d sat down. He stared at me intensely, his eyes darting up and down over me like he was looking for a sign or like he was trying to say something more than what he’d actually said. My pulse took off again.
“I can take care of myself,” I said, looking away.
“I know you can, just thought I’d offer some advice as someone who’s been in your shoes. If you push it too hard you’ll end up a tired old man like me,” he said.
“Heaven forbid,” I said and he smirked.
“Kile, can I ask you something?” he asked and immediately my entire body tensed.
“I’m an open book,” I lied, praying he wasn’t about to ask what I thought he was.
“During your speech yesterday when you mentioned you’d been cheated on… Do you think that has anything to do with the mission you’re on now? This is off the record, of course,” he said. God damn it, I thought. True to form, Taylor wasn’t going to let this go. He was like a dog with a bone. Still, I had to keep control, I couldn’t let this spiral away such that I’d end up saying yet another thing I’d regret. As friendly and charming as he tried to make himself appear, the truth was Taylor was a journalist—he only wanted a story. I took a deep swig of my coffee while I thought of what to say.
“No. It has nothing at all to do with my mission,” I said in as level of a voice as I could manage.
“That’s not what you said yesterday.”
“Of course not. I have to give people something to talk about.”
“I don’t believe that for a second,” Taylor said and my face flushed with anger but I swallowed it back. This is what he does. He’s pushy and he’ll back me into a corner to get me to say what he wants if you I him, I thought. So I won’t.
“That’s your problem, not mine,” I said and took another swig of my coffee, eyeing him over the ridge of my mug. He smiled and sat back in his chair.
“That’s why you didn’t bring the camera crew. You hoped you could catch me in a lie or something, right?” I asked as I set the mug back down on the table.
“No. I just thought we might be able to talk as peers without a camera in your face. Clearly, I was wrong.” Good, maybe now he’ll give up on this, I thought, satisfied with myself for fending him off. It probably wouldn’t be the last time he brought it up but hopefully it would get me out of trouble for today.
“If it’s not true, then why are you doing this? For the record,” he said as he readied his pen and paper.
“I don’t have to answer that,” I said and he laughed.
“Your non-answer tells me everything I need to know.”
“And what is it telling you?”
“That I was right. But you know what I think?”
“I can only imagine,” I sighed.
“I think you’re doing this because you desperately want to feel love again but you’re afraid of it. In fact, you’re so afraid of it you’d rather tour the country telling people how outdated of a concept it is than dare let someone, anyone, get close to you again.”
“Look, if you don’t think I mean it when I say sex should be able to exist between two people with no strings attached, you’re more than welcome to follow me to the bedroom so I can prove it,” I continued, regretting the words as soon as they’d come out. My lack of a filter didn’t always work in my favor. I didn’t mean it, not really, I just thought it would get under his skin.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” he said. “And you should be glad the cameras weren’t rolling for that one. That would’ve caused quite a stir.”
“I’m used to controversy. It comes with the territory,” I said, simultaneously thankful and disappointed Taylor had declined.
“Alright, if that’s not it, then do you even know why you’re on this crusade?” he asked and I froze. I didn’t have a good answer because it was a question I’d asked myself recently.
“I want to expand the country’s concept of what love is and what it can be,” I said, the first thing that came to my mind. Taylor laughed and shook his head.
“Come on, if you’re gonna feed me bullshit you need to try harder than that,” he said.
“It’s not bullshit, it’s the truth. Why can’t people live their lives without love in it? Why do we treat that as such a necessity?”
“I think you already know the answer to that,” he said. “Some people can. They’re wired that way. But the vast majority of us aren’t,” he continued, his icy-blue eyes piercing through me again. A chill ran down my spine. What the hell was he trying to imply? “Most of us need love in our lives to survive. It’s human nature to want connection with other people.”
“That might be your human nature but it’s not necessarily true for all of us.”
“Alright, fine. If our culture’s definition of love doesn’t work for you, then how would you define it? Or what would you like to see it become?” he asked.
“I’d like to see it become a non-stop fuck fest, one I think you’d greatly benefit from experimenting with,” I said, more out of frustration than to be funny. Again Taylor shook his head and slammed his notebook closed.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Clearly, this isn’t getting us anywhere. I don’t know where your head is today but it’s obvious you’re not in the right place to talk so I’m calling it a day,” he said as he shoved his stuff back into his bag.
“Fine,” I said, though it didn’t feel that way. I stood to follow him to the door. He’d started to open it but paused, closed it again, and turned to face me.
“What?” I asked, not thrilled that he was still there. I wanted him to leave, wanted him to stop peppering me with questions, wanted him to get the hell out of my house before I did something really stupid.
“Can I ask you one last question? This one’s off the record, too,” he said, scanning my face.
“What’s one more?” I sighed. And then his lips were on mine, his hands on my back and neck to hold me still as he kissed me, his tongue forcing its way into my mouth. I tried to pull back and couldn’t, he was too strong, though I wasn’t sure I really wanted it to end anyway. After what felt like months, he released me and stood staring at me, his eyes traveling up and down my face. He licked his lips.
“Did that make you feel anything?” he asked. Are you fucking kidding me? I thought. That made me feel everything.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Good. I was starting to think you couldn’t feel anything at all.”
“That was totally uncalled for,” I said. Or was it?
“You should have dinner with me,” Jeff said and I burst out laughing.
“You’re joking,” I said. “We can’t do that. We’re co-workers. And besides that, I hate you.”
“The kiss said otherwise,” he said with a smile.
“It didn’t mean anything. You surprised me.”
“But you liked it, didn’t you?”
“Not at all,” I said and he raised his eyebrows at me and I waffled. “OK, fine. Maybe a bit.”
“Then have dinner with me this weekend.”
“Only if the crew is there,” I said. The fact we were even having this conversation was insane enough but I knew better than to let myself be alone again with Taylor. He laughed.
“Man, you really are afraid, aren’t you? Alright, fine. Have it your way,” he said and dug in his pocket to produce his wallet. He slipped a business card out of it and handed it to me. “Obviously, the office number doesn’t work anymore, but the cell number does. We’ll iron out the details.”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever. Get out,” I said. He smiled again and stepped out of the door, letting it click shut behind him. I fell with my back against it and a hand clapped over my mouth.
Jeff Taylor had kissed me and not in a light sort of way. Why did he do it? Was he trying to prove a point or… No, no way. That wasn’t possible. And I definitely didn’t have any feelings for him other than intense dislike, especially after this, though I had to admit part of me was impressed with his boldness. Maybe he wasn’t as much of a stick-in-the-mud as I thought he was.
But that didn’t change anything. This was just a temporary project, something I had to suffer through so I could build my platform. Falling for Jeff Taylor of all people was not part of the package.
… So then why was I falling?